Chapter 208: Plotting (III)
The two maids were worried that Qin Yining wouldn’t get over her shyness and kept the remainder of their teasing silent.
The fourth miss leaned against the carriage, contemplating a small shoot of grass through the screened window. It was a hot day. Thankfully they were parked beneath a tree with shade offering some relief. But even so, the occupants of the carriage started sweating before long and made use of velvet fans.
Steward Zhong came back sweating heavily after two hours.
“Miss.” The two maids alighted when the steward climbed into the carriage, but not before they handed over water and handkerchiefs. They grabbed the groom to walk off into the distance.
Qin Yining looked apologetically at the steward’s drenched collar and hair. “My apologies for having you make this trip on such a hot day.”
“Not at all, it wasn’t anything major.” The steward waved his hand with a smile. “Thankfully I didn’t disappoint. I really did obtain some information.
“The young man is Li Wenhan. He passed the scholar examinations when he was fourteen. He’s twenty eight now, but his future hasn’t progressed at all because of the friends he’s made. He picked up the bad habit of gambling and frequently indulges in it. He owes a lot of silver. Miss, guess what his lady gave him just now?”
“The lady is his lover? Then she naturally gave him something to pay off his debts. As down on their fortunes the Ning Manor may be, slipping away the smallest thing will be more than enough for Li Wenhan to play with outside.”
“You’re right, miss. I found out who the lady is as well. She’s a head maid for the Princess Consort of Ning. She’s called Qiangwei and has known Li Wenhan for four years. They’ve privately promised themselves to each other. She’s the reason why the scholar’s been able to always pay off his debts in the nick of time in recent years.
“Since Qiangwei serves the princess consort, she has plenty of opportunities to touch jewelry that the princess consort doesn’t value as much. I had someone follow the man and found out that he visited a pawn shop afterwards. I bought out the pawnbroker and learned that Li Wenhan’s always pawned off things at this shop.”
Qin Yining nodded, her eyes deep in thought.
The steward didn’t interrupt as opted to drain a cup of chilled tea, then cooling himself down with a cattail leaf fan.
The fourth miss waved her velvet fan absentmindedly and thought of a question a moment later.
“Do you know if any of the Ning businesses transact with any Cao businesses?”
A surprised steward asked back, “Why do you want to know, miss? Both parties have many businesses. We’d have to take some time to carefully sort all of them out.”
Qin Yining poked the red beans on her wrist and murmured, “Please look into what kind of business the two families do with each other.”
“Miss, are you… looking for an opportunity to create some trouble with their businesses?” The steward asked uncertainly.
“Mm.” The girl nodded.
“We can’t do that.” The steward advised earnestly. “Miss, there’s an unwritten rule with the businesses of the nobles that any conflicts are the results of the servants and employees. The masters don’t get involved. No matter how much of a mess we create, we won’t draw the prince’s attention.”
Qin Yining shook her head with a smile. “That may not be entirely true. There’s two things we need to do at the moment. One, have the Caos be full of themselves and suppress the prince’s businesses harshly. This shouldn’t be hard to accomplish. Two, I’ll need you to make private contact with Qiangwei.”
She lowered her voice even more so and whispered a few words next to the steward’s ear.
The contents made the man go wide-eyed with incredulity. It took him a few moments to recover from his shock. “Miss, is this too much of a risk? Qiangwei’s served the princess consort for a very long time. The consequences would be disastrous if word of this got out!”
“No worries. She may want to be loyal, but she wants herself and Li to live even more so. We have tangible evidence at the pawn shop.”
Well, that did seem to be the case.
“Alright then, I’ll do as you say, miss. Just wait for my good news.”
Qin Yining smiled gratefully. “Many thanks for your efforts, Grand Steward.”
“Not at all.” The steward hopped off the carriage with some excitement, eager to get started. Qin Yining called back Jiyun and Bingtang and returned to the Qin Manor.
Ten days later, the Ning Manor.
The Prince of Ning looked at his ashen-faced princess consort on the bed, his brow knit with worry. “My dear, are you feeling better?”
“Don’t worry about me, Your Highness. I feel, al… alright…” Sweat dotted the princess consort’s forehead as she clutched her stomach, feeling her guts roil and churn once more. Her expression changed drastically. “I can’t, I, I need to use the washroom again!”
She scrambled down the bed and her maids Qiangwei, Baiwei, and Ziwei quickly took their mistress to the washroom in the back.
The prince was livid and he punched a bowed-legged paulownia tea table. “This is ludicrous! Qiangwei, come here and tell this prince exactly what happened today!”
Out in the washroom, the maid trembled all over at the summons and forced herself to calm down. She dropped to her knees in the bedroom and kowtowed. “Please quell your anger, Your Highness.”
The prince sat on a round stool and pounded the tea table again. “Well? Speak!”
“Yes. This servant accompanied Her Highness into the palace today to greet the empress as usual. The empress mentioned that she had a lovely new batch of almond tea and bestowed a cup to Her Highness. The princess consort didn’t dare refuse and drank it on the spot. Her stomach started acting up on the way back…”
Qiangwei’s hands were clammy and the color drained from her face. Calm, I must be calm. If she failed, not only would she lose her life, but Li Wenhan would as well.
Thankfully, the prince doubted not a thing and swiped a teapot off the table to smash it viciously on the ground. The shattering of porcelain was exceedingly ear-piercing. Everyone in the house knelt fearfully and kowtowed.
“Please quell your anger, Your Highness!”
“That empress! The Caos! How dare they think so little of me!” The prince exploded furiously and turned in maddened circles. “It’s just some small business conflicts! I haven’t done anything even with that old fart climbing all over me, but that Cao bitch makes moves against my princess consort? Does he take this prince for a dead man?!”
The princess consort emerged at this point, holding onto her maids for support as she walked with an arched waist and shaking legs. When Qiangwei understood that the prince had no intention of venting his anger or shifting his suspicions to her, she got up quickly to help her mistress lie down.
The princess consort had gotten such severe diarrhea that her face was pale and she was extremely weak. It’d been only four hours since she’d left the palace, but she’d already run to the washroom at least a dozen times. No one could take this toll on their body!
The princess consort had always led a life of ease and comfort. She’d ever been healthy and never suffered sickness or ailments. She naturally found this sudden torment hard to bear. She cried piteously, “Don’t be angry, Your Highness. Don’t clash with the empress because of me. This degree of suffering isn’t much.”
“What do you mean ‘isn’t much’? You’re my princess consort! What does the empress think of this prince in treating you this way? What does she think of our Ning Manor?” The prince planted his hands on his waist in hot irritation and huffed loudly. “It isn’t the Caos’ first time acting this way. What kind of stunning talent is Qin Meng? His manor has almost become the Caos’ backyard! They barge in whenever they want to and rifle through belongings at the drop of a hat. That muddleheaded fart Cao’s gotten used to having his way there and thinks I’m an easy target as well! That’s his greatest mistake!”
The prince turned to roar at the eunuch standing at the door. “Well? Where’s the imperial physician?! Why isn’t he here yet?!”
The little eunuch trembled all over and pulled a face uglier than crying. “In response to Your Highness, we’ve already sent in our requests. But Grand Preceptor Cao hasn't been feeling well lately and he’s requested all of the physicians on duty. We’re looking for those not currently serving a shift.”
Rage shot to the prince’s head again when he heard this and he kicked over a chair. “F*ck you Cao, your mother was a whore for donkeys!” 
The atmosphere inside was so terrifying that servants didn’t even dare breath loudly. They remained kneeling and curled themselves into balls.
The princess consort’s expression changed again and she shakily tried to rise. “No, no. I need to…”
As he watched his wife being helped to the washroom again, the prince roared in epic tones of fury. “Get a doctor if no imperial physicians are available! Are all of you blithering idiots?! Do I need to teach you even this? Where is my heir? And the others?! Their mother is sick, don’t they know to come help her?! What kind of manners are these?!?!”
“Yes, yes, this servant will go immediately!” The maids and eunuchs ran around slapdash in the face of their master’s forbidding anger.
The Prince of Ning had three sons and one daughter. His firstborn with the princess consort had once been given to the emperor, but had been returned after the emperor gained the crown prince. Thus, his firstborn, also Prince of Ning’s heir, occupied a very awkward position.
But the heir’s mother was the princess consort after all, so he too was very worried to hear that his mother was sick. He came with his wife, as well as the Prince of Ning’s second and third son, including an unmarried Commandery Princess  Jialan. They took up positions by their mother’s bed while the Prince of Ning sat in the outside room, glowering.
A doctor came before long and took the princess consort’s pulse, only to find that he had no idea what was going on with the patient. Terrified, he kowtowed to the prince with a face as white as a sheet. “Uh, the, the princess consort has some sudden disease. This old man has never seen this before and doesn't dare write a prescription. Please have some skilled imperial physicians come take a look, Your Highness!”
“Sudden disease? Sudden your mother!” The prince almost sent the doctor flying with a kick. “The princess consort was poisoned!”
The doctor grew even paler, if that was possible. His beard trembled with his response. “Please quell your anger, Your Highness. I’ve never seen such a rampant poison…”
I don't know how to cure this and wouldn’t dare. Find someone else, Your Highness!
- Definitely took liberties with this insult. This was a more general/typical f*ck you motherf*cking etc. type insult, but that didn’t quite seem to fit with the ancient China setting. Besides, with how pissed the prince is right now, he’s just going to throw out anything that insults Cao, and insults about family are very, very bad in Chinese culture.
- Title granted to daughters of imperial princes. Imperial princes are brothers of the emperor.